Mic round-up: sE2200T, Samson C01U, Shure SM58

Posted on December 15th, 2009 by Ian

Andy White, author of Podcasting Unleashed, has created three videos that show common microphones in action.  These mics are great for screencasting and Andy shows you a few tips on mic technique.

If you’ve never used a higher-end mic then watch these videos – you’ll learn how to identify the front, top and back of these mics, you’ll know how their sensitivity varies and you’ll know how sensitive they are to background noise.

Update – I’ve added another link at the end.

sE 2200T Valve Condenser Mic (approx. £300 GBP)

The sE2200T is a higher-end mic, if you don’t get the USB version then you’ll need some hardware to interface the XLR connector to your computer’s USB interface.  Personally I use the next mic down, an sE2200A (non-valve).

The video is great as Andy shows (and you can hear!) what happens when you speak to the front, top and back of the mic.  If you’ve never used a high-end mic then this guide to speaking into the right part of the mic is invaluable.

Note that you have to listen to the left channel – use ear buds.  The right channel has some high-end fluttering (also known as ‘twittering’) which was probably introduced by the encoding at YouTube.

Samson C01U USB Condenser Mic (approx. £50 GBP)

The C01U is quiet for the first minute as Andy is pointing the front of the mic at the camera rather than at his mouth!  He also shows again how the mic’s sensitivity varies when you speak into the front, top and back.

Andy puts it on par with the Shure SM58.

Shure SM58 Dynamic Mic (approx. £50)

The SM58 is an all-round mic, it is much favoured by singers and recording artists (you’ll see it on TV a lot).  Andy removes the pop-shield so you see the diaphragm too.

The above microphones and mic techniques are discussed further in The Screencasting Handbook.

Other tips:

Lynn of TeleStream (of ScreenFlow 2 fame) has a blog entry called ‘Can you hear me?‘ which discusses several mics, sadly there are no examples.  The readers chime in with their own suggestions too.

HyperCam 3 released

Posted on December 8th, 2009 by Ian

Dmitry at Solveig Multimedia sent me the press release for the release of HyperCam 3.  Their new release is a low-cost (under 30 Euros) screencasting tool for Windows that integrates a simple editor, it is probably going to be a very useful tool for low-budget screencasting.

HyperCam 3 can record live-video and regular screens and the recorder can use a small window that follows the mouse around the screen.

Once I get my hands on a copy I’ll do a review.  You might want to see my earlier notes on the pre-release of HyperCam 3.

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How I’m writing The Screencasting Handbook

Posted on November 22nd, 2009 by Ian

Over on my personal blog I’ve documented How I write The Screencasting Handbook.  I want to keep the process open so other people can replicate my process and improve upon it.

Amongst other things I talk about how I decided on the topics that needed covering, the infrastructure behind the site and what I might do for the second edition.

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15 tips to remove noise from screencasts and videos

Posted on November 21st, 2009 by Ian

One of the biggest problems with screencasting is poor audio quality.  It doesn’t matter how swish your graphics are or how carefully you’ve planned your script – if your audio is hissy, full of pops and breaths and background sounds (like traffic!) then the listener will be disappointed.

This topic is discussed in more detail in The Screencasting Handbook.

Don’t record noise in the first place!

Any audio engineer will tell you that a poor original recording is the hardest thing to try to improve.  Always strive to record clean, clear audio:

  • Isolate your recording environment – be in a room by yourself with the door shut and windows sealed
  • Turn off all other equipment including mobile phones, fridges and fans
  • Wait for quiet times of the day – traffic, aeroplanes and birds can be quite obvious in the recording
  • Move the mic a long way from the PC’s fan
  • For laptops use an external mic so you can get away from the laptop’s fan
  • Don’t run any other programs if possible so the CPU isn’t under load – that way the fan is less likely to run fast which tends to make it louder
  • Try not to cough or make ‘tsk’ noises
  • Keep breaths shallow, quick breaths in or out cause a lot of air to rush over the mic which sounds very noisy

Record with better equipment

A better mic will tend to record your narration with greater depth and quality.

  • Avoid cheap 3.5mm jack mics that sit on your head – these tend to be the lowest quality mics and their 3.5mm connectors induce electrical noise into the signal
  • Use USB mics – the motherboard’s electrical noise won’t get into your audio
  • We discuss mics like the CU01, SM58, Plantronics 550, sE2200A and ATM73a in the Handbook
  • If possible buy an expensive low-noise fan for your computer like the Noctua NF-R8

Remove ambient background noise and clean the audio

  • Camtasia Studio on Windows is one of the few screencasting programs that can automatically remove ambient noise (BBFlashBack on Windows and Camtasia Studio and ScreenFlow on Mac can’t)
  • Audacity is a great open-source tool to remove ambient noise so you won’t get a background hiss
  • See this Audacity screencast tutorial for instructions on de-noising, range compressing and editing your narration using Audacity

Add background noise into the recording

This one is controversial – personally I don’t do it, I always prefer to use Audacity to remove background hiss.  What you can do is take a section of existing hiss and copy it over other sections of your audio to mask other noises (like birds or cars).

This can help if you’re cutting and pasting your audio and you ‘clicks’ or ‘pops’ appear, you can smooth over these edit points with a small piece of copied noise.  Use this with caution.

More tips!

For more tips on audio planning, recording and producing see these screencasting tips.  Also take a look at part 8 of the ProCasts screencast tutorial series that deals with audio recording.

This topic is discussed in more detail in The Screencasting Handbook – you can also join our Google Group to ask screencasting questions with all our members.

New Podcasting Unleashed eBook by Andy White

Posted on November 16th, 2009 by Ian

Andy White, my accountability buddy, is writing his own eBook on podcasting.  Podcasting Unleashed s being developed in the same way that I’m developing The Screencasting Handbook.  It is at an early stage, like me he’s just recently started selling copies (you have to be on the email list to get the link).

The homepage has an embedded preview of the book, the available chapters give you a bit of background on how microphones work and the software you’ll need to create podcasts.

There will be some nice overlap for screencasters – Andy will be discussing things like:

  • Script preparation
  • Using a microphone
  • Audio editing
  • Podcast distribution
  • Publicity

I’ll cover most of these to some degree in the Handbook here but I suspect that Andy will treat these topics with more depth (since they’re absolutely essential to high-quality podcast production).  Andy also has different experience to me so he’ll cover the topics in a different way.

If you’re at all interested in improving your audio quality then I do suggest you join the updates mailing list on the Podcasting Unleashed homepage.  You’ll also get an invite to his Google Group where you can discuss audio issues with other podcasters.

Release 5 of The Screencasting Handbook now available

Posted on November 14th, 2009 by Ian

I’ve uploaded Release 5 of the Handbook and sent out update emails to everyone who bought an earlier copy.  The new release has 1 full new chapter and 1 new half chapter and takes the word-count up to 13,000.

The new chapter is ‘Make a screencast in 2 hours’ and discusses Camtasia Studio, BBFlashBack and ScreenFlow.  The half chapter talks about ‘Distribution’ and discusses YouTube, Vimeo, ShowMeDo and other sites for public and private hosting.

If you want to get a copy then visit the Handbook’s homepage, check the table of contents (so you know what you’re getting) and then sign-up to the mailing list on the bottom of the page.  You’ll be mailed details of how to buy and sent updates as the book expands.

I’m not posting links to the Buy page too liberally yet as I want purchasers to be absolutely aware that the book is very much not finished and subject to updates every month!

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Constructive critique of ResolverOne’s BioPython screencast

Posted on November 14th, 2009 by Ian

ResolverSystems have just published a new screencast made by Jonathan Hartley (one of their engineers) showing how BioPython can be used from within one of their spreadsheets.  I’m going to give a brief critique here with two suggestions for improvements.  Here’s Jonathan’s screencast:

The Good:

  • The video is clear and the length is 3 minutes – this is a great length for a techy demo
  • The audio is well paced at a good volume – it is very easy to follow what’s being discussed
  • The use of PyMOL is great, the 3D molecular visualisation will stick in one’s mind long after the less visually stimulating spreadsheet elements are forgotten
  • At the start there’s a simple box diagram that shows the key concept – this is a nice way to easily show the user the high-level idea of the screencast
  • Some highlights are used, this is great for drawing the viewer’s attention to the areas being discussed
  • At the end we’re told how to get the files so we can replicate what we’ve seen – this is great if you’re interested in what you saw and you want to repeat the tutorial yourself
  • Feedback is also requested – again this is a great way to tell the interested viewer that they can talk back
  • The video is supplied via ResolverSystems, YouTube, Vimeo and ShowMeDo so it will get excellent exposure and it provides easy embedding options (I’ve used the YouTube embed option above)

Two suggestions:

  • The audio is a bit hissy.  I’m guessing that Camtasia Studio was used and that has a built-in de-noiser system that can remove the hiss.  Alternatively my Audacity tutorial for Camtasia gives further ideas for cleaning up the audio
  • There is an opening and closing slide but no email address (either personal or a more generic ‘info@’).  Some contact details might be nice if someone watched the video in YouTube or Vimeo

If you want to learn more about screencasting, check out my Screencasting Handbook.

Silvio Grosso’s screencasting workflow on Windows and Linux

Posted on November 13th, 2009 by Ian

Silvio Grosso was good enough to send me details of his workflow using Windows and Linux screencasting software.  I’ve tidied it up a bit and reprinted it here.  I discuss more workflow approaches in the Handbook.  Thanks Silvio!

For my colleagues, I record my video tutorials with CamStudio 2.5 beta. This software has plenty of bugs (it is still a beta). Nevertheless, for my limited needs, it has always worked really well.

It is “portable” on Windows. This is great because at work I don’t have any privileges as administrator to install new software:

  1. Generally, I record videos which are 10 minutes long at most
  2. I write a list of all the topics I want to explain with my video and I try to stick to it
  3. I do a quick test of my list before recording – I do the most “difficult” things by repeating them quickly so I don’t make mistakes during recording
  4. I never record my voice when I record the video. I prefer to concentrate on making the right steps with the software

On Windows XP and Windows 2000 Professional:

  1. For CamStudio, I use the option to “colour” my cursor when I click with a button of my mouse. I chose green for the left button and purple for the right button. The cursor, when moving, has a yellow semi-transparent circle (many videos on ShowMeDo have this feature)
  2. To zoom in and out and pan I use a utility from Microsoft (it is freeware) called Zoom-it.  With this utility I can even write some text when recording (it is possible to choose the colour, size, font)
  3. When I am done recording I save my video as AVI
  4. I open my AVI file with VirtualDub. Most of all, I delete all parts which are useless (e.g. where you have to wait 20 seconds to launch something…)
  5. While I watch my video running on VirtualDub I record my audio with Audacity with a microphone.
  6. I modify the audio on Audacity (e.g. to remove the noise) and I save it as MP3 (using the lame codec).
  7. With VirtualDub I merge the video and the audio.
  8. In the end, I compress my video with the XVid codec; for my audio I keep the MP3 lame codec.

On Linux (Ubuntu) at home I use VirtualBox 3.0.8 where I have Ubuntu Karmic (now still beta) as guest (the host is Windows XP home edition with 3Gb RAM):

  • In the past, I have tried RecordMyDesktop, but I didn’t like it too much (e.g. it doesn’t have colour options for the mouse cursor)
  • As a consequence, I prefer to stick with CamStudio 2.5
  • With Virtualbox it is possible to record a video when you are working on Linux as guest
  • This, through CamStudio, which works in background on Windows, the host (on which I have installed Virtualbox and, on it, Ubuntu)
  • Everything I do on Ubuntu is recorded (just as on Windows)
  • In short, thanks to VirtualBox, while working with Ubuntu, I am able to apply the really same workflow mentioned above for Windows XP and 2000
  • The only big problem, on Linux, regards the software zoom-it, which doesn’t work with VirtualBox 🙁

BBFlashBack Pro 2.6.6 review

Posted on November 13th, 2009 by Ian

Recently I used BBSoftware’s FlashBack Pro 2.6.6 to record two series of tutorial videos for ShowMeDo on OpenOffice Base and Impress (see some details on the series at ProCasts). You can see one of the resulting videos at the end of this article.

Here I’ll share some of the highs and lows of using FlashBack.  Previously I’ve used the higher-priced Camtasia Studio 6 for other ShowMeDo series, the editing power was required so I could create polished videos for ShowMeDo’s payming-member Club.  I wanted to try FlashBack Pro as it is less than half the price of Camtasia Studio and it offers a similar set of features.


The ecording process is similar to Camtasia’s and just as easy.  By default it wants to record full-screen but you can define a window or custom area.  The recordings always looked smooth and I’m happy with the results – no missed frames or glitches.

I recorded up to 15 minutes of footage per video before editing down to 3-8 minutes for each production and I noticed no problems with audio/video synchronisation (which afflicts e.g. CamStudio).

The software states that it has three different recording modes (though I only used the default).  It also has useful options to clear your desktop of icons during recording, set your desktop to a plain wallpaper and to disable window animations.  These things can all make recording smoother and clearer.


It took me 30 minutes to learn the interface, the learning curve was pretty shallow given that my recent experience has been with Camtasia.  The editor in Pro makes it easy to cut and move segments of the video, apply zooms and add on-screen annotations.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the zoomed results (see below) but they do the job just fine.

FlashBack doesn’t have a built-in title slide generator so either you have to make a full-screen text box or import a title slide that you produce elsewhere (that’s what I did).


FlashBack provides various export options, I used H.264 (MP4) at 800×600 which works nicely for ShowMeDo.  The export process was very smooth and it felt faster than Camtasia Studio’s exporting.

The timeline was easy to navigate.  I did miss the ability to zoom in and out of the timeline (e.g. to see all the production on screen at once) but possibly I missed something in the editor that would let me do this.

I was a touch annoyed to discover that ‘Ctrl X’ isn’t bound to ‘cut’ as it is in most Windows applications, instead it did something else.  I had to keep remembering to delete a selected section rather than try to cut it away.

Possible problem – zooming not as smooth as Camtasia’s zoom?

I think that the zoom feature in FlashBack isn’t as sophisticated as the one in Camtasia Studio, the zoomed results never looked quite as sharp as equivalent zooms in other OpenOffice recordings I made using Camtasia Studio.

You can see for yourself here – take a look at the Base Intro video (FlashBack Pro) and the Calc Install video (Camtasia Studio 6).  For Base, jump to 0:10 and 0:30 and you’ll see that the text is a bit lumpy – as if the image was just expanded rather than having an interpolated zoom applied.  For Calc jump to 1:00 and you’ll see lots of text in a zoom with no artefacts.

I’ll discuss this with BBSoftware and see if they can shed any light on the results.

Missing feature – no automatic de-noiser:

One feature I missed was the lack of an automatic de-noise routine to take background hum out of the audio recording.  Camtasia Studio provides a routine that works automatically (though not brilliantly) and manually (which works fine with a bit of fiddling).

The lack of a de-noiser means I had to export each audio track, import it into Audacity, de-noise the audio (as discussed here) and import the cleaned track back into FlashBack.  This process took about 15 minutes per recording.  I’ll cover this process in the Handbook.

Overall use:

Overall I found FlashBack to be a solid and useful screencast recorder and editor.  If your budget is constrained then this is probably the best choice for you, you also get a 30 day free trial to test it out.  If you want integrated titling and de-noising then Camtasia Studio might still be a better choice (but it does cost a lot more).

On occasion I’d forget to press the ‘Apply Effects’ button which applies the zooms, I’d only discover the lack of zooms when watching the exported video and then I’d have to repeat the process.  Perhaps the workflow could be improved  with a reminder to the user as they go to export if their effects won’t be applied?

For further research see this nice short review and this 10 minute screencast tour.

Example video:

This is the Base Intro video that I produced for ShowMeDo, I include it here so you can see what a FlashBack production might look like:

Addition: Jonathan Camp has reminded me that one of BBFlashBack’s strengths is that the filesizes are tiny compared to other screencast recorders.

Early release now available

Posted on November 8th, 2009 by Ian

Last Friday I started to sell an early release of The Screencasting Handbook to everyone who is on the mailing list. I’m being careful to only sell via the mailing list as I want everyone who purchases to know that the book is very much a work-in-progress that is not in any way complete.

So far I’ve written 12,000 words in 5 chapters.  The release I started to sell is the earlier (10,000 word) version, the new release will go out to everyone later this week.  I’ll release an updated Overview document in a few days and that’ll go into the site’s homepage, from there you’ll be able to see everything that’s covered so far.

The expected final price will be $39USD, the current release is being sold at $26USD (a 1/3 discount).  Everyone who buys of course gets all the updates through to the finished final release.  As more of the book is written the discount will be reduced.

To be notified of how you can buy (and to get updates as the chapters are written), join the mailing list at the base of the homepage.

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